Friday, August 20, 2010

Into the Wild

In reality I'll mostly be in cities; I've abandoned my grand plan to mosey about the countryside, as that originally relied on four weeks of travel time instead of the two I now find myself with. (One week was eaten up by a scheduling conflict, aka I misread the calendar; another by the PSB because of visa issues.) My traveling:staying ratio will also be pretty high. That said, I'm very excited for what's on the docket in my own personal Journey to the West; you can check out a map of my scheming at Here are the highlights:
1. Xi’An was the Chinese capital for over 1,000 years, and nearby waits the famous Terracotta Army.
2. Dunhuang is supposed to have the most impressive Buddhist grottoes in anywhere ever, made in early AD and successfully hidden from all roving conquerors.
3. Kashgar in one of the principal cities representing Islamic/Uighur China, and is said to host an absolutely amazing Sunday bazaar in true ancient-Silk-Road-hub fashion.
4. Turfan is probably one of the top half-dozen sources of Chinese historical artifacts (both written and material), and happens to be the hottest place in China, also known for its “singing sands” (
5. Urumqi and Yilin are both scenes of recent Uighur rioting and insurrection, but I may well drop one or both from the itinerary if it gets too tight or I feel like I'll be too tired to get much out of being there.

Look for a lot of blogging and a comprehensive program review on HBA when I get back. Also, I promise to take a lot of pictures. 


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What's New and What's Not

First off, my apologies for appearing to have fallen off the face of the Earth. I've been intending to write a blog entry for the past 18 days or so... it just never quite ended up happening. For now, a quick overview of my life to tide over anyone who's still interested; next week I'll have a lot of time to kill so I'll most likely add legitimately interesting content.

 - HBA continues about as usual. Things keep coming up that trump homework and/or sleep, so since the last time of writing I've had one solid/studious week and two "muddling through" weeks. Anyway, it all ends on Friday at noon; classes will end, we'll have a "graduation ceremony," and we will be released from the already-less-than-unbroken language pledge. At which point we'll undoubtedly force our teachers to speak English. Then a night of final dinner(s), KTV with the teachers, clubbing (probably with some of the teachers), and sleeping in the next day.
 - This past weekend was "北京之夜" ("Beijing Night"), during which I was part of three acts: a pretty poorly written/planned play for the 4th-years, a calligraphy show in which "書" ("book") was painted on my back; and a well-received guitar-and-voice duet in which I sang the first Chinese song I ever learned (5 years ago now!),  "對面的女孩(看過來)," as well as our own translation of "Two of Us" (我们两) by the Beatles. The whole shebang was a nightmare to prepare while at the same time doing classwork, seeing some Yale friend before they go back, etc., and I forgot one line of lyrics per song, but hopefully the video of the duet will be fun and perhaps even share-able.
 - My visa and travel plans are oh so slowly working themselves out. I won't have my passport/new visa back until the 20th (dual nationality win: I can still use my other passport to cash traveler's checks!), so when HBA ends (the 14th) I'm going to spend a few days in and near Beijing, doing fun touristy things like going to 北海公园 (Beihai Park) & 颐和园 (the Summer Palace) and going to a place a few hours away from the city where the air is clean and we can row boats/climb mountains/ride ziplines/etc. At that point I'll be taking an 18-day trip with the intent of eventually ending up in 乌鲁木齐 (Urumqi, in Xinjiang Province; the site of some pretty serious riots last year but it's been 13 months and foreigners should be fine), and taking the 2-day cross-country train back to Beijing. I haven't really planned this much at all except for the starting point (太原, where a teacher of mine lives) and some lodging (I'll mostly be relying on couchsurfing), but my aim is mostly to see a lot more of China, particularly poorer rural areas and 3rd(+)-tier cities. I'll also try to hit some of the bigger tourist destinations if practical, notably 西安/Xi'An and 敦煌/Dunhuang.
 - I've been missing Yale(?) a bit. School's starting up again shockingly soon, the blue book (course catalog) is already online, and I've recently been Skype-ing or getting dinner (when they're around) with a handful of folks I'm sure I won't see again for a long time. At the same time, when all is said and done I'm completely content with not going back to Yale - in fact, all of the pressure (curricular, extracurricular, and social) and particularly the lack of focus that's involved in a semester at Yale is just a dim memory. Here, while I wouldn't consider myself "on vacation" per se (when I'm not traveling to the other end of Beijing to deal with my visa, a normal day is about 4.5 hours of class and as many hours of homework), because of the focus and the environment and the lack of outside pressures I just tend to not feel stressed in the least.
 - My Chinese ability is still tough to judge. I think that my listening is still lamentable, but at the same time I'm trying not to succumb to pressure to focus on my reading, which is quite slow; when I took the HSK (汉语水平考试 / Test of Chinese Proficiency), I could have scored very, very well if not for my horrid score on reading comprehension, and of course that's been bothering me much more than it should. At any rate, I think my accent's decent, and there's that. As for this program and the next, 1) I'll be writing a full program review next week or so as one of my blog entries, and 2) I'm already regretting not choosing IUP over ACC, as ACC's curriculum seems much more limiting than I had (kind of foolishly) expected it to be and perhaps more difficult as well.
 - My personal life: For those interested, after about a week I ended up breaking up with Tingting, the Chinese girl I was briefly dating. (McKay Nield, if you're out there, feel free to have a field day with that name) While I haven't given up on the possibility of dating Chinese girls, I quickly realized that when you can't chat very well (which I can't) and you don't have many common interests (which I don't), then the other being a lovely person just isn't enough; you're going to need something to sustain some sort of feeling in the relationship. I'm thinking that maybe I'd need to find someone with very similar interests/hobbies, particularly someone somewhat intellectual, for it to work out at all. Which is of course absolutely fine - live and learn and go with the flow.

Shall blog again in a more timely fashion,